On Miami's Two-Way Game 2 vs. Chicago
The Miami HEAT lost Game 1 to the Chicago Bulls for a myriad of reasons, but none as paramount as the fact that they were unrecognizable from the team won more games than any other team in the NBA this season.
Even during their most lethargic first halves during the season’s early months, the HEAT weren’t defeated so easily with screens on the perimeter – giving Chicago every mismatch it desired – nor was the primary defender so slow to step up on a drive he could see coming 20 feet away. Rarely was this team’s best defensive quarter before halftime, but against the Bulls the team that had dominated the league in the last five minutes of close games found itself dissected, possession by possession, until there was nothing left. The offense, a system built on trust and motion that carried this team to one of the most efficient years in league history, grew as stagnant as it was during the season’s early months – in 2010.
These were issues the team had fixed before, but there was never so much to revise after a single game. With just one practice between games, it was almost unreasonable to expect the HEAT to self-correct each red-mark from the series opener. But in beating the Bulls, 115-78, Miami managed to do just that.
“Losing Game 1 at home was tough and had to go back and look ourselves in the mirror,” Dwyane Wade said. “We just needed to come out in game two with better effort and I thought we did that. These games are going to be tough.”
And then some.
The highlight of the evening was a tour de force run over the course of fifteen and a half minutes spanning the second and third quarters. As the HEAT scored 43 points to Chicago’s 18, every strength of Miami’s was showcased while it was the Bulls, depleted as they were, made into shadows of themselves.
Since everything starts with the HEAT’s defense, so shall we.
Stopping the Bulls
It’s the most simple observation, but sometimes a team just needs to play better. This was just as true for Miami after a few lackadaisical road games in December as it was in the first game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. While some defenses are constructed around keeping feet in the paint and allowing teams to settle, again and again, for inefficiency, the HEAT cannot survive with positioning alone. When the defense is on, it’s a swarm of axe-wielding killer bees harassing opponents into mistake after mistake. But without sufficient effort lubricating every aggressive rotation, the scheme is rendered stingerless – a nuisance any team with reasonable dribble penetration and ball movement can swat aside.
The energy was there Wednesday night, and that’s all that mattered. The HEAT didn’t do anything differently, they just did what they were doing and they did it quicker, smarter and better. Chris Bosh was jumping out on screens and putting ballhandlers on their heels. Shane Battier was stepping up early to take a charge. Chris Andersen was deterring shots at the rim and LeBron James was a weakside terror.
After each rotation followed another and then another after that. The result were possessions such as this:
During Miami’s 15-minute run, the Bulls made less than a quarter of their shots, but more importantly for Miami the Bulls didn’t attempt a single shot in the restricted area around the rim. Not one. As the game wore on Chicago began to settle – though Carlos Boozer’s extended run of mid-range jumpers came in the second quarter – but there were no obvious opportunities being passed on. This was what you would expect putting a team lacking some of its primary shot creators against an aggressive, locked-in defense.
Not only did Chicago commit 19 turnovers, nine of which were of the live-ball variety, but it attempted just 13 shots in the restricted area – the second-lowest total of the Bulls’ season. They’ll get more in the coming games, but if the Bulls aren’t getting more efficient looks and scoring on those big-to-big interior passes that Miami gives up when secondary rotations are a step or two slow then there simply won’t be enough consistent offense to carry them through the series. Especially if the HEAT can limit the Bulls to just seven offensive rebounds while the game is in question, as they did Wednesday.
Attacking the Bulls
While the defense needed effort, the offense had to get back to process. After earning open, quality looks in the first half of Game 1, Miami’s attack slowly degraded into a slog as the ball stuck and one-pass possessions mounted. The team still earned 27 attempts around the rim but converted on barely half of those opportunities. As Dwyane Wade and LeBron James attacked, Joakim Noah would step up, present contact and expertly jump out of the way while contesting the shot at the rim. And too often, this developed as four players stood and watched.
In Game 2, the magic happened off the ball.
As Dwyane Wade is wont to do (LINK), he took advantage of every pair of Chicago eyes watching the ball and not the man. Heads turned, and it happened again…
Now, every attack wasn’t a full-frontal dribble assault. Rather than trying to get around Noah in the air, Wade and the rest of the team got behind the defense before the catch was even made. Even if the pass is made directly next to a big man, it’s easy to underestimate how much more difficult it is to locate the ball, turn your body and then jump to contest than it is to watch the ball come down the lane and time your defense.
Sometimes, though, it was simply the Bulls leaving their defensive assignments, such as when Norris Cole was left alone in the left corner for a pair of threes at the end of the first half:
“We’re about spacing,” Cole said. “Once we get the space and we have open looks, it’s our job to knock them down.”
In all, the HEAT shot 80 percent on 25+ shots in the restricted area for not only the first time in their season, but it was also the first time an opponent did that to Chicago’s typically merciless defense this year. During that 43-18 run, the HEAT went 10-of-11 at the rim, with 16 of their 18 field-goals coming off assists, at times taking advantage of Chicago’s strong-side overloads with, again, simple cuts to the rim.
It wasn’t simply Wade well timed slicing and dicing pushing Miami forward, though. The HEAT got back to doing the little things that allow their playmakers to make plays. LeBron James got deep post position and made himself a passing target. Wade sealed his defender off as the HEAT reset the offense on an offensive rebound, creating a layup. Chris Bosh boxed-out defenders as Wade drove to the rim and cut into passing lanes as Mario Chalmers drove baseline. Norris Cole, for the second-straight game, stepped out of his comfort zone and became a screen-setter in order to force Nate Robinson to defend James and Wade as they turned the corner.
The HEAT did the things that create opportunities for others, and so they kept on scoring.
“In Game 1 I thought the Bulls imposed their style upon the game,” Shane Battier said. “We didn’t get to what we do. That was the difference tonight, we were able to get to our style.”
As the action shifts north to Chicago, things won’t be so easy. This was as uncharacteristic a defensive game for Bulls and Game 1 was for the HEAT. Miami will have to make the same plays for half the number of efficient shots, but it will be worth it. Each game doesn’t have to feature one team putting up season-best or season-worst numbers, it just has to feature the same process. Wednesday night, the HEAT got back to their process and in turn, looked like themselves again.
“They’re the world champions for a reason, and they played like it tonight,” Nate Robinson said.